Talent Is Not Enough: Branding & Life Lessons for All from Aretha Franklin
Yesterday I read a most excellent, robust, and well-researched article on The Queen of Soul’s life by David Remnick, “Soul Survivor: The Revival and Hidden Treasure of Aretha Franklin” originally published in The New Yorker on April 4, 2016. Remnick described Aretha as “the greatest singer in the history of the post-war popular music.” After reading the article, I was left with the following question, “Is talent enough?” Is this all that was needed for Aretha to be considered so great?
In my quest for an answer, I pulled leadership expert John Maxwell’s “Talent Is Never Enough” from my bookshelf. He purports that talent is not enough, and in fact, these traits are needed in addition to talent:
As Miss Aretha is presently ill, her life and professional legacy strikes me. What she has created and offered the world for over six decades inspires me to be great. In honor of her, I invite everyone to read The New Yorker article about her life, found here, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/04/aretha-franklins-american-soul and view the referenced Kennedy Center performance video below (if you haven’t already watched)!
In just a few words, I’d also like to share why for Aretha, talent was not enough and how she exhibited some of Maxwell’s leadership traits, and is an inspiration for us all to aspire to greatness.
It is without question that Aretha is as her father Rev. C.L. Franklin said, “a stone singer.” Yet, she also embodied confidence, passion, focus, preparation, practice, perseverance, courage, teachability, significant character, and teamwork to achieve the level of greatness that she did which led to her being the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987), being named the greatest singer of all time by Rolling Stone magazine (2010) and winning 18 Grammy Awards, 3 American Music Awards, 3 NAACP Image Awards, among many other honors in her lifetime.
As the next generation of singers is upon us, especially amidst such an attention deficit world, we can only hope that a few of them will commit the level of focus, practice and preparation that Aretha did. Her range and repertoire was unparalleled. Her ability to perform in place of Luciano Pavarotti within a 20-minute notice at the 1998 Grammys reflects the level of preparation from which she operated. Having been a little girl of a 1950s mega/celebrity preacher with access to gospel greats like Clara Ward and Rev. James Cleveland and jazz great Dinah Washington, she was teachable and remained so as evident with her doing a rendition of Adele’s Rolling In The Deep as recent as 2014.
Aretha had clear values, standards and mores, from which she was unrelenting. To be a queen, one must do so. These are things to which all women can espouse. She didn’t cut corners on her talent. She didn’t compromise her performance in any way. Her product is her voice and her performance, and at all costs, she has protected her brand, even if this means not performing, not flying, or being considered demanding or considered a “diva,” in the negative sense of the word.
At 76, she has 61+ years in the business, with her first recordings occurring at age 15. This is outright perseverance. The legend, Miss Aretha, has had the courage and endurance to perform before crowds, night after night, for decades. She pushed through her childhood pain of being a teen mother, and having lost her own mother at nine years old, to perform at a truly masterful level across the world. The strength to do so is almost unfathomable to me, but it makes me understand why R-E-S-P-E-C-T is due to her, now and forever.
In watching her live performance of “Amazing Grace,” from the documentary of the same title, (legal issues are ongoing between the film’s producer and Franklin’s team), I am reminded that there are two other traits to add to the iconic Aretha Louise Franklin’s outstanding characteristics — the ability to be vulnerable and touch people at the soul level.
Yes, Aretha can sing and play piano, but once on stage, she gave herself to us, she became vulnerable which is not easy enough to do as a layperson. I can only hope to be half as vulnerable in my life as she was on stage. And lastly, her voice will forever have the special ability to tap into people’s raw emotions and authentically connect with people through her music. She was a vehicle for a generation’s feelings of love, hope and demands for respect. As Remnick says, “there is no “Formation” without R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”
I hope today’s singers, and professionals in general, will somehow find the time, focus, diligence, preparation and patience to deliver as she has and truly impact the world through their gifts. For Aretha has created an incredible road map for many to follow.
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Respectfully, Olivia Scott